It is a common assumption that governments use public opinion research primarily to help them make popular decisions about major policy issues but few scholars have ever looked beyond this assumption to investigate its veracity. In The Roles of Public Opinion Research in Canadian Government, Christopher Page pulls back the curtain on the uses of polls and focus groups.
Stressing public opinion on policy rather than on support for parties, Page explores the relationships between government officials and pollsters, and the contributions of public opinion research to the policy process. Three high-profile policies are considered in depth: the patriation of the constitution and the establishment of the Charter of Rights by the Trudeau government, the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax by the Mulroney government, and the controversial strengthening of gun control by the Chrétien government.
The Roles of Public Opinion Research in Canadian Government demonstrates that opinion research has a greater variety of roles than is often recognized, and that, despite conventional wisdom, its foremost impact is to help governments determine how to communicate with citizens. It is an essential contribution to the study of Canadian politics, filling a major gap in the scholarship.